My cap and gown hang in the closet waiting for graduation. The Phi Alpha cord and stole are draped over the hanger; their blue and gold fringe hang down to the floor. And every time I open the closet door and see them, I am brought to tears. You would think they should be tears of joy, of elation, of purpose and of hope for what lies ahead. Tears expressing completion and finishing, accomplishment and learning. And yet, they are tears of sorrow and grief. Tears of wishing and too late. Tears of confusion and exhaustion and of I don’t even know…
When I started this Master’s program with its 2 year internship attached, my goal was to become a therapist and yes, I have arrived at a place to be able to do this now. A place where I will help others to not have to writhe and wrangle through life the way I have done for decades while trying to press back against past trauma. I just knew that God was asking me to strive to pass along some of the “work” I have done, to make an effort to help to offset some of the pain others may experience along their life journeys. And so, I set out on the path.
But just because it is time to give back on a deeper level, and just because you are ready to heed God’s call to your spirit, that does not mean that your life or those you love within it will be able to see or to understand just what you have embarked on. It does not mean that God will hold back on delivering challenges. It does not mean that you will easily have the vigor to hold on to what you know and already have in your energy fields and yet still make room for all you are asked to take in.
With so many lectures these past years, there were tugs and tears. The classes on grief brought up every loss of my past and the all too close present; the lectures on divorce and its effects on children felt like bullets to my soul because I knew none of this when I made my own choices around that subject. I just didn’t know. Studies on polyvagal theory and neuroplasticity blew my mind, very literally blew my mind, because I could actually feel electrical sparks of understanding coursing through my brain as I learned; I really could feel them.
The power point presentations on rape and its after effects could have been taken from my CV. Those on childhood trauma transported me more than once to the long ago; bruising my little girl spirit again, yet again. Still, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to understand more and understand I did.
And now, at this milestone moment, it has become clear that amid all the learning and the A-OK’s, amid the holding my breath while trying not to be triggered, I didn’t know that I was left more and more alone. I didn’t know how hard it would be, or how tiring. How very tiring. And I certainly had no idea that opening my home at the eleventh hour with ever too little space, either physical or mental, would be the catalyst that broke the camel’s back. I never in my wildest imaginings believed that I would be called to seek solution alone; this when I have spent the last year striving so hard to finish so that life could get more relaxed.
As I think back, I am reminded of what a professor explained to me when I sought her counsel. She told me that with past trauma it was important to be vigilant in maintaining breathing space at home; this in order to detach each day because this stuff could kick things up, especially while new challenges abounded all the while. I am grateful for her now, as I have been at the too few moments I had mental space to remember her wisdom, because she helped me keep on. I remember a moment where she looked me in the eyes and I knew that she could see me; she could see my goodness. It felt like a long time since anyone could. I remember her telling me about all the mistakes she has made which press her forward in her clinical practice. I recall her reminding me not to look for understanding from others in this work, but simply to do it. She said to focus on understanding from within or I would be left wanting.
But to not seek understanding from those we love when we feel we need it is not easy for humans, because all the while, all along the course of this learning, in my life outside class there was loss, there was death, there was illness and challenge. Yes, there was still suiting up and showing up all the while, but the armor grew so heavy atop the burdens of this emotional learning. Perhaps there was no space enough to either ask for understanding or to understand; I know not which. But, all the while, there was needing and wanting and tired. There was ever so much tired. And being in my mid 50’s, there was also the lack of cooperation from my unrecognizable body and ever so much heat constantly coursing through me, though I kept attempting to deny what was going on.
When my clinical year started and I set out for an elder certification, all I could see in the eyes of my clients was my mother; my deceased mom who just like many of them both wanted help and refused it at the same time. Counter transference at its finest. I saw dad too in the spirits of cancer patients writhing in pain and in the eyes of Alzheimer sufferers, former corporate giants who could no longer pick up a fork or brush their teeth. Every paper I wrote for two years was with a personal experience in mind. And I kept wishing, and wishing, that I was younger and had less references to pull from. Oh, how I wished I had not already “been there done that” as I wrote and wrote and wrote.
The lectures on drug addiction were unbearable. They hit too close to home on so very many levels. The professor’s solution of offering sanctuary to addicts incited a wish to stand up and scream at the insanity of what she was teaching. I wondered if the instructor had walked the streets of LA trying to find a stepdaughter. Had she seen the addict’s and dealer’s tents pitched everywhere, infringing on the city? Had she ridden in the back of a police car and heard the pain in the officer’s voice as he spoke of the hopelessness of any solution? Did she know that the subject she was touting was shaking my home? My family? My security? Did she know? And then came the exams where I was called to put aside personal knowledge and access the answers I was being taught; answers which I know are not really the answers, not really.
It seems, and with this I am blindsided truly, that the two years of being immersed in these lessons and these reminders have taken a deeper toll that I ever imagined. The toll goes beyond what they touched on as I learned. The toll has hit my home. And I am shattered. I am blinded. I am breathless. The Masters graduate wants to stand proud, but the little girl in me really, ever so badly, needs a hug.
And so, it seems, the cap and gown hang where they will stay. There will not likely be a purposeful walk with fellow classmates; no yippee, no hooray, no cap toss. There is no congratulations; not one that will matter. But, since there is a diploma and a national certification, perhaps down the road, there may be someone, somewhere who will be served because of something I pass along to them from all this learning. I hope so. Maybe then it will seem that it has been worth it.